Madrid

Madrid is the capital of Spain and one of the largest cities in Europe.  It’s had a host of identities since men first settled the fortifiable site by the Manzanares River.

From Roman waystation and Arab garrison town to the hub of perhaps the most powerful global empire the world has known.  Its history is a complex mosaic of peoples and cultures and in the 21st century, the city has re-invented itself again.

Megan will be exploring the city’s major landmarks and taking two day trips, one to medieval Segovia, the other to the imperial city of Toledo.

Due to its altitude Madrid has cold winters and very hot summers.  Traditionally Madrilenos left the city in August due to the unbearable heat, so maybe this is not the best month to go to Spain’s capital city.

MUST SEE & DO...

Have a coffee in the Cafe de Bellas Artes.

Have a cana (half pint of beer) in one of Madrid’s many terraces scattered around the different city squares.

Take a day trip to Segovia to try cochinillo (suckling pig).

Make sure you see Picasso’s Guernika or some of Velazquez’s and Goya’s paintings in the impressive.  But also check out some of the new art space like the Matadero. You’ll find these and more on Madrid’s “Art Avenue” where you can wander into the PradoReina Sofia and Thyssen museums, and since 2007 also the CaixaForum.

On Sunday, visit the El Rastro – Madrid’s sprawling fleamarket. It’s an absolute must and the atmosphere is unbeatable.

If you can, visit Madrid during the Madrid Gay Pride.

Check out some Spanish shops like Uterque Zara and Mango – because they are manufactured in Spain by the clothing giant, Inditex, prices are much cheaper than back home. Also, some hot Spanish designers like David Delfin and Loewe.

Chill out in El Retiro park.  There are always people playing bongos and hanging out on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Make sure you pack a phrase book and a good walking guide / map.

TRAVEL

  • By air
    Madrid’s Barajas airport is 13km north east of the city on the A2 motorway.  Thanks to the new Richard Rogers designed terminal T4, the airport capacity is expected to reach 700 million passengers per year.All airlines that are members of the One World network (including Iberia, BA, Aer Lingus and American Airlines) will share T4 for national and international flights.For airport information, call 902 35 35 70 or 91 393 60 00 or check www.aena.es
  • Aerocity – provides shuttle services between the airport and city centre hotels.  Cheaper than taking taxis.
    Tel: 91 747 75 70 www.aerocity.com
  • Bus from airport – Line 200 bus service runs between T1, T2, T3 and Avenida de America, while Line 204 runs to T4.  Both take between 30 and 40 minutes.
    Metro from airport – The metro is the cheapest way to get to central Madrid.
    Taxis – Taxi fares to central Madrid should be around €25.
  • By bus
    Almost all international and long distance coach services to Madrid terminate at the Estacion Sur de Autobuses.
  • By train
    Spanish national railways (renfe) has two main stations in Madrid – Atocha and Chamartin.
  • LOCAL TRANSPORT
    To get to know Madrid , it’s best to explore on foot.  Most of the main attractions are witin walking distance of each other and for orientation purposes think of Puerta del Sol as the centre.Public transport is cheap and efficient – both bus and metro will get you where you want to go within half and hour, although it’s best to avoid the buses during rush hour.
    Metro is the quickest and simplest way of travelling to most parts of the city.  The metro is open 6am-2am daily.

GLOBE TREKKER ITINERARY

DAY 1:  Spanish presenter Adela Ucar, lands at Madrid’s funky new airport building – Terminal 4 – designed by London’s Richard Rogers Partnership. From there she is off by taxi to the city centre, bedding down in Los Gatos hostel where she stays for the duration of her visit. The hostel is aptly named Los Gatos – aka “The Cats” – a popular nickname that young Madrileños have taken to calling themselves. Why? Because cats come out at night and play. Likewise, Adela wastes no time in heading out herself for the evening.

DAY 2:  Adela commandeers a bicycle to visit Madrid’s old town. She starts her tour at the imposing Plaza Major, built in the 16th century and formerly used by the Spanish Inquisitionto publicly humiliate “heretics”, i.e. anyone deemed to have strayed from Catholic rule. Today, Adela Ucar Innerarityit’s the epitome of a modern European capital – crammed with cafés, ice cream parlours, and teeming with buskers and tourists. Adela cycles on to the Royal Palace which was built in 1764 and is a fine example of Baroque architecture, its lavish interiors paid for by the wealth and riches which flowed into Spain from the New World colonies at that time. Next, determined to pack as much culture as she can into one day, Adela sets off for one of Madrid’s newest and hippest art spaces – The Matadero – built on the site of an old abattoir. Here she meets up with Mit Borass a local video artist who accompanies Adela to El Prado Museum. Here at Madrid’s most famous classical gallery, they check out two of Spain’s greatest artists:Velasquez and Goya.

DAY 3:  Adela heads out of town to El Escorial, one of the most significant buildings in the history of Spain. Part monastery and part palace this grandiose edifice was built by the fanatically religious and wildly ambitious King Philip II. Next up, she visits Segovia – an ancient walled city and home to an incredibly well preserved Roman aqueduct which is thought to date back to 1 A.D. En route, Adela makes time for lunch and dines on freshly roasted suckling pig which is considered a great delicacy in these parts. To demonstrate just how tender and delicious the meat is, the restaurant owner slices the baby pig himself – using a porcelain plate as a knife. Last off, Adela checks out the fairytale-like palace fort on the hill: theAlcazar. She is lucky enough to get a tour from Professor Antonio Ruiz who is in charge of the palace’s restoration.

Adela Ucar InnerarityDAY 4:  Meanwhile back in Madrid, it’s Sunday and the perfect day to visit El Rastro – the city’s famous flea market in – in La Latina which was once the barrio bajo, or working class neighbourhood. This is where meat was traditionally slaughtered, tanned, and prepared formarket. As Adela soon discovers, tapas houses serving traditional Madrileño food abound in this area. Their speciality? Offal. After sampling zarajo – lambs intestines wrapped around wooden stick – she moves on to flavoursome tripe, and tasty pig’s ear, before concluding she’s definitely more of a pizza girl.

Next off, she visits the city’s cathedral of bullfighting: Las Ventas Stadium for a spot of traditional Spanish entertainment. Here she interviews a young novice bullfighter – or torero – who is so nervous before the fight he can barely speak. Just like the bull – he feels like he is at the mercy of the Las Ventas crowd. Aside from the bullfighter’s reputation, it seems there’s big money in this sport.

DAY 5:  Adela journeys by train to Toledo – the erstwhile capital of Spain. Built on a hill, and surrounded on 3 sides by a bend in the Tagus River, this UNESCO World Heritage city issteeped in history. Adela takes in city’s magnificent 15th century Gothic cathedral where she meets up with local guide Mario Campos who takes her on a Spanish Inquisition Tour. Along the way, they take in the gory Museum of Torturewhich showcases a collection of Adela Ucar Inneraritymacabre torture paraphernalia. Adela steps back into a bygone era when she visits a traditional blacksmith where a local craftsman demonstrates the ancient art of sword-making. In fact,Toledo has been renowned for its forged metal swords since the Middle Ages – and you don’t have to be a fan of Lord of the Rings to appreciate the artistry.

DAY 6:  Back in Madrid, Adela continues her history trail into the 20th century and The Spanish Civil War which took place from 1936–1939, and ended when fascist dictator General Franco came to power. Franco ruled the country until his death in 1975 – a period which fascinates English expatriate historian Stephen Drake. Stephen takes Adela on a guided Civil War tour and explains how Franco didn’t manage to conquer Madrid city by land. Instead, he called upon Hitler to bomb the city from the sky – thus the Republican army had no choice but to surrender.Local Madrileños also give their take on Franco, and why this very recent period of history is so often ignored, or swept under the carpet.

Adela Ucar InnerarityDAY 7:  As it’s her last day in Madrid, Adela heads downtown for a delicious feast prepared by one of Spain’s most famous chefs: Pasco Roncero. Pasco makes a “deconstructed” version of the Spanish Tortilla which he serves in a cocktail glass. Last off, she winds up her trip with a visit to another of Madrid’s successful young exports: cutting edge fashion designer –David Delfin – whose amazing boutique looks more like a contemporary art space than a clothes shop. David gets Adela kitted out for Madrid’s Gay Pride festival. Not only is this Pride the biggest of its kind in Europe, it’s also a symbol of just how far Spain has opened up since the Franco years. It looks like Los Gatosreally do know how to party!

PRACTICAL INFO

  • Population:

    Roughly 3.3 million making it the largest in Spain and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin.
  • Currency:Like in the rest of Spain, the currency in Madrid is the Euro, (€).
  • LanguageSpanish & English

SLEEP

Hostal Cats
www.catshostel.com

c/Cañizares 6
28012 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 692 807

Madrilenos are called cats (gatos) and like cats, they like to come out at night.  Sleep is never guarenteed at this particular Hostal as the atmosphere is very social but it’s central and the perfect place to meet other travelers if you are running solo.

From €12 per night The Cats is very affordable. Rooms are clean but you may be sharing in bunk beds with other travelers and there’s an open all hours policy, no curfew here!

For more reccomendations, try the Lonely Planet’s exhaustive list or for a top ten run down The Guardian’s rounded these up nicely, from boutique type hotels to all-out luxe.

EAT & DRINK

  • Not so long ago, it used to be that even dishes from other regions of Spain were thought as exotic here in the capital.  However, the times are changing and today you can find food from all over the world.
  • That said, this city remains a bastion of Spanish cuisine and what has often been describes as ‘brown food’.  The famous cocido madrilène – a stew of various bits of meat, offal and vegetables served up in three courses – is still eaten religiously.
  • For madrileno cuisine head for the area around Los Austrias and La Latina.  If you are not up for this heavy food, head over to Chueca, where you’ll find hipper, stylish restaurants.

ADVICE

  • Don’t go out too early.  Madrilenos rarely eat lunch before 2pm.  Although if you go after 4pm the kitchen will be closed.  Dinner is eaten late as well, around 10pm.
  • For lunch, order the menu of the day.  This is a great way to eat cheaply and well.  It usually includes starter, main course and dessert, bread and wine.
  • Careful if you decide to eat tapas.  It can end up being quite costly.  Ask for a menu where you can see the prices.  If they haven’t got one, check the price of each dish you order.  Your can also order half portions.

USEFUL WEBSITES

Tourist board – www.esmadrid.com
Airport info – www.aena.es
Train info – www.renfe.es
Tube/subway – www.metromadrid.es
Buses – www.emtmadrid.es
Madrid Gay Pride – www.cogam.org
www.museodelprado.es
www.museoreinasofia.es
www.museothyssen.org
www.mataderomadrid.com – contemporary art center
www.mesondecandido.es
www.museosefardi.net

USEFUL BOOKS

Time Out Madrid
Lonely Planet Madrid
Rough guide Madrid
Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 Madrid

 

Barcelona by Jordi Escuer

Plaza de Toros, Madrid, by Andrea@MorBCN

Madrid City Guide

Globe Trekker

View episode

Northern Spain

Globe Trekker

View episode

The Artistic Traveller:...

Pilot Globe Guides

View episode

Globe Guides: Gay Pride

Pilot Globe Guides

View episode